There are many health benefits of taking Omega-3 fish oil, but before we dive into it, let’s start with an overview. Omega-3 fish oil is an oil extracted from the tissues of fatty, cold-water fish, such as cod, mackerel, sardines and salmon. These fish are rich in essential nutrients called omega-3 fatty acids, which include docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). DHA plays a crucial role in brain health, while EPA helps the body prevent blood clotting and inflammation. Since the body doesn’t manufacture these essential fats on its own, you need to acquire them through foods rich in omega-3s or supplements like fish oil.
Getting enough omega-3 fats from sources like fish oil that contain DHA and EPA is important for disease prevention, brain power, emotional well-being and overall health. Here are 16 reasons to say “yes” to fish oil:
It may seem counterintuitive that fat can benefit cholesterol levels, but omega-3s are shown to have a cholesterol-lowering effect. In a study on 97 people over 50 with high cholesterol, fish oil supplements were shown to significantly lower levels of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and raise levels of HDL (“good”) cholesterol after just 12 weeks . Higher HDL levels help keep LDL cholesterol in check by binding to it and carrying it out the body. Researchers concluded that by reducing cholesterol and arterial plaque, fish oil supplementation is a promising way to lower your risk for heart disease.
Fatty liver is the presence of extra fat in your liver, namely triglycerides. Triglycerides are a “bad” type of fat that are associated with higher disease and obesity risk. Your liver is responsible for converting this fat into a form that can be excreted by the body. When you’re deficient in omega-3 fatty acids, however, your liver doesn’t have what it needs to do this job. Fat builds up as a result, and over time causes “fatty liver.”
Omega-3s intercept and reduce the delivery of triglycerides into your liver . This knowledge led researchers to investigate the effects of fish oil supplementation on patients with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. A meta-analysis of 18 studies involving 1424 patients concluded there’s ample research to suggest that fish oil supplementation does decrease liver fat and improve fatty liver, even in people who already have the disease .
Very high levels of triglycerides are associated with liver and pancreas problems, as well as a higher risk of heart and blood vessel problems . By binding to triglycerides and carrying them out the body, fish oil can help lower triglycerides. Studies show that fish oil supplements lower triglycerides in a dose-dependent manner, meaning that the more fish oil you consume, the more your triglyceride levels can reduce with regular supplementation . In fact, certain types of fish oils have been FDA-approved specifically to lower triglyceride levels.
According to the CDC, 1 in 3 American adults have high blood pressure . Uncontrolled high blood pressure can cause a stroke by weakening the blood vessels in your brain, causing them to narrow or rupture.
In a 12-week study on people with hypertension, those who supplemented with fish oil experienced significantly lowered blood pressure compared to those who supplemented with soybean oil. They also had fewer symptoms of hypertension after the 12 weeks, including dizziness, headaches, palpitations, chest tightness and ringing in the ears .
By fighting plaque and lowering inflammation in the blood vessel walls, fish oil helps soften your blood vessels and prevent atherosclerosis and abnormal blood clotting. If you have to take blood thinners because your arteries are hardened by plaque, fish oil can help soften your blood vessels to eliminate the need for blood thinning .
Fish oil supplementation can reduce the risk of major ventricular and atrial arrhythmias, which are heart problems that cause abnormal heartbeat rhythms. If you’re already at risk for heart disease or if you have high blood pressure or diabetes, you have a greater risk for developing an arrhythmia. Left untreated, arrhythmias can cause heart attacks. Researchers have suggested that supplementing with fish oil at a concentration of 800 to 1000 mg of EPA and DHA each day can significantly lower your risk .
The DHA found in fish oil plays a vital role in brain function, so it’s no surprise that fish oil can improve your focus. It’s been shown in studies to increase attention span and reduce symptoms of ADHD. Research suggests that fish oil is an important supplement for pregnant women and for children, due to the role of omega-3s in brain development .
For children already struggling with ADHD, research suggests that fish oil could be a promising supplement to improve attention, reduce impulsiveness and promote calmness. In a study on ADHD symptoms involving 41 children with dyslexia and other learning difficulties, one group was given fish oil as a daily supplement. After 12 weeks, the two groups, which tested equally at baseline in terms of ADHD symptom severity, became significantly different. The group that supplemented with fish oil displayed better behavior and improved cognition. The researchers suggested that supplementing with fish oil is a risk-free way to help children struggling with learning difficulties or with ADHD .
From this study and others like it, we can extrapolate that children and adults who don’t have ADHD can probably experience better focus and attention span as a result of fish oil supplementation.
Inflammation is a natural response to infections and injuries, but many people have chronic low-grade inflammation that comes from free radical damage and other factors that put stress on the body. Chronic inflammation has been linked to many of the most common diseases, including diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. While some foods are pro-inflammatory, others are anti-inflammatory. Fish oil is anti-inflammatory because of its high EPA content. EPA is the specific omega-3 fatty acid type that is known to lower inflammation, and it may help treat conditions that involve chronic inflammation.
Many foods in the typical American diet contain omega-6 fatty acids, which are fats that are healthy and essential, but when not balanced by the right proportion of omega-3s, they cause inflammation. Vegetable oils in both home-cooked and processed foods are the largest source of omega-6 fats in a typical diet. Many people cook with Canola oil or safflower oil and eat foods processed with soybean oil or palm oil. As a result, the typical omega-6 to omega-3 ratio in the American diet is 15:1. According to experts, this ratio should ideally be at 3:1 or even 2:1 .
Experts say that the offset of this ratio could be a major factor causing chronic inflammation and disease in people today. When you increase your omega-3 intake, you’re able to rebalance the ratio and keep inflammation in check. In fact, in a study on patients with rheumatoid arthritis, a ratio of 3:1 omega-6 to omega-3 fats effectively suppressed inflammation and reduced joint pain and stiffness . Fish oil supplementation may have the ability to reduce medication needs in people with rheumatoid arthritis, and potentially other inflammation-related diseases. For healthy people, just by keeping omega-6 to omega-3 ratios in check, taking fish oil can play a huge role in preventing these diseases.
Medical scientists know that inflammation is linked to depression . By lowering inflammation and supporting healthy brain function, fish oil may be able to help people with depression. In a study on patients with major depressive disorder, treatment with a combination of EPA and DHA omega fats was compared against a placebo. After 8 weeks, the EPA/DHA group had significantly reduced symptoms of depression compared to the placebo group .
In another study, omega-3 treatment was compared to citalopram, which is a common prescription for treating depression. It also looked at a combination treatment of citalopram with omega-3s. While both omega-3 treatment and citalopram were shown to reduce symptoms of depression, interestingly, the combination treatment produced the greatest results, causing significant improvement in patients within just 4 weeks .
Alzheimer’s disease and other neurodegenerative diseases are characterized by a decline in cognitive function and in the physical health of the brain. Major factors involved in the development of Alzheimer’s are oxidative stress, chronic inflammation and the buildup of amyloid plaque in the brain. Amyloid beta is a sort of metabolic waste produced in the brain. Its presence is normal, but in a healthy brain it gets removed through a cellular function known as brain-to-blood clearance. When the brain isn’t getting the nutritional support it needs, however, and when inflammation and oxidative stress affect cellular integrity, amyloid beta doesn’t get flushed out. As it accumulates over time, it hardens as amyloid plaque, which disrupts normal communication in the brain.
By supporting brain health and reducing inflammation, fish oil can help prevent the formation of amyloid plaque. In animal studies, omega-3 supplementation has been found to increase the clearance of amyloid beta in the brain. Researchers suggest that brain-to-blood clearance is impaired in the early stages of Alzheimer’s and dementia, but omega-3 supplements like fish oil can support the brain’s ability to flush out amyloid beta .
By preventing the build up of amyloid plaque in the brain, fish oil can help prevent Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, and potentially delay the onset of age-related cognitive decline.
Brain health and eyesight are closely interwoven. DHA is not only found in your brain, but also in the retina of your eye–the part responsible for converting perceived light into neural signals for the brain to interpret. Sufficient amounts of DHA are required for healthy membranes in the cells of your retina. When these cells break down, the retina degenerates. Such is the case in age-related macular degeneration–the leading cause of blindness. Fish oil can help protect your eyes as you age by promoting cellular integrity, as well as by reducing inflammation. Chronic inflammation around the optic nerve can reduce the quality of your vision, so keeping your omega-6 to omega-3 ratio balanced with the help of fish oil is important for preserving good eyesight .
Most people think of vitamins and minerals as the nutritional precursors to strong bones, and would never guess that a type of fat could help build bone. But in fact, studies have linked omega-3s to higher bone density and lower rates of osteoporosis. Animal studies have even found that fish oil reverses osteoporosis by up to 50 percent . Maintaining a 3:1 or 2:1 ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fats seems to be the key factor in improving bone health, since the balance of these fats is required for healthy bone metabolism.
Your skin contains omega-3 fatty acids, and it plays a huge role in both the health of your skin and in the absorption of vitamin D from sunlight. Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin required for calcium absorption. When your skin is exposed to sunlight, it requires the presence of fats like omega-3 to assimilate vitamin D. Skin also needs omega-3 to protect against sun damage and to nourish hair follicles.
People with skin disorders may benefit from fish oil supplements, including psoriasis and dermatitis. Omega-3 fats keep cell membranes strong and healthy, so that skin cells have barriers against harmful pathogens and environmental toxins. Healthy cell membranes are also important for bringing nutrients into the cells and carrying waste products out of them. Fish oil can help bring down skin inflammation that occurs in cases of eczema, psoriasis and other skin ailments. It also helps keep your skin hydrated, which goes a long way in fighting the appearance of aging .
Fish oil can help fuel muscle growth by helping your body recover after exercise. Your muscles grow as your body repairs the damage done, but without the right nutrition, you can wind up with joint and ligament pain. Fish oil supplementation can keep you at the ideal omega-6 to omega-3 ratio so that you don’t experience excessive inflammation after a workout that delays your recovery. Inflammation is a natural response to muscle fiber damage, but the more inflammation there is, the slower it takes for muscles to recover.
Besides bringing down inflammation, omega-3 fats also help with workout recovery by increasing the muscle-building response to insulin and amino acids. Insulin and amino acids are triggered to release into the bloodstream during exercise, but for muscles to rebuild afterwards, the body must respond by using protein to build muscle tissue. As a result, the more omega-3s you have the better your chances are in building and maintaining muscle .
According to Johns Hopkins, families can protect their children from the risks of indoor air pollution, including asthma, with adequate amounts of omega-3 fatty acids. In a 6-month study on children with asthma, a diet abundant in fish was shown to bring down asthma symptoms triggered by indoor air pollution. It also found that a higher intake of omega-6 fatty acids was associated with more severe asthma. This suggests that maintaining a healthy omega-6 to omega-3 ratio is vital in preventing and managing asthma .
The DHA in fish oil plays a role in healthy sleep patterns because of its role in brain functions. Chemical balance in the brain is required for normal sleep regulation, and research has now confirmed that low omega-3 status is associated with poor sleep quality. A 4-month treatment on children ages 7 to 9 with sleep problems found that supplementing with DHA led to an average of 58 minutes more sleep per night. DHA is required for converting the neurotransmitter serotonin into another neurotransmitter, known as melatonin, at night. Melatonin is what triggers feelings of sleepiness in the brain and throughout the body. With low omega-3 intake, children and adults can experience low melatonin levels, causing insomnia or poor sleep quality .
With mercury and other heavy metals, as well as PCBs, able to accumulate inside the bodies of fish, many people are concerned that fish oil could be harmful. According to ConsumerLab.com, a serving of fish meat is likely to be much more contaminated with toxins than a fish oil supplement . Whereas fish oil extracted from fish is refined and purified during processing to remove toxins, the same isn’t possible for whole fish. This makes fish oil a great alternative to fish.
Nonetheless, not all fish oil supplements are equal. Some have better sources and purification methods than others, so be sure to check a third party tester like ConsumerLab.com before choosing a fish oil supplement.
Supplementing with fish oil rarely causes side effects, but sometimes it causes a small skin reaction if your immune system overreacts to the proteins in fish oil. In some people, a rash consisting of small, colorless bumps develops for the first week or so of supplementation, and then goes away. Another potential side effect is gas, diarrhea or other digestive complaints, which may go away after a week or so of supplementation. If this occurs, reduce your dose and only raise it when your body has adapted to fish oil.
If you’re taking blood thinners, check with your doctor before taking fish oil, because it can have an additional blood thinning effect. The same applies if you’re taking medication to lower blood pressure.
You need at least 250 mg of combined EPA and DHA each and everyday to prevent deficiency. If you have heart disease, high triglycerides or high blood pressure, you’ll need a higher dose than that to reap the healing benefits of fish oil. Fish oil supplements will tell you how much EPA and DHA is present inside each capsule or teaspoon. A typical 1,000-mg fish oil pill contains about 250 mg of combined EPA and DHA, while one teaspoon (5 ml) of liquid fish oil gives you about 1,300 mg. The European Food Safety Authority says that DHA and EPA supplements like fish oil can be taken safely at doses up to 5,000 mg per day.
Supplementing with fish oil is a proven way to keep your omega-6 to omega-3 ratio in check, so that you can avoid chronic inflammation and lower your risk for diseases like heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s and more. Fish oil is also healthy for brain function and workout recovery because of its vital role in cellular membrane health. Since omega-3 is an essential nutrient, the body can’t produce it on its own, and it must be obtained through your diet.
If you don’t eat a lot of fish, or if you’re concerned about heavy metal contaminants in fish, it’s important to supplement with fish oil. While there are non-fish sources of omega-3s, fish is one of the only sources of omega-3s with high amounts of DHA and EPA, which are the forms of omega-3 fats the body needs.